|Original Published Date: December 6, 2016|
The Yankees are rebuilding. It’s hard to comprehend that statement…but the Yankees are rebuilding. What is scary is that they are also shedding bad contracts and by 2018 should have a core of some very young and exciting players and serious financial flexibility to delve into what should be a historic free agent class in 2018.
The minor league system is so deep that as many as nine players could make my Top 100 list. Leading the way is Gleyber Torres, a potential impact star in the making. He dominated the Arizona Fall League and showed everyone what the Cubs gave up for Aroldis Chapman. Clint Frazier, follows closely behind and is one of the best young outfielders in the game. It’s about bat speed and power with Frazier and he’s almost ready. Aaron Judge and Miguel Andujar are two other power bats that are just about ready and in fact, Judge will likely break camp as the everyday right fielder. Finally, Jorge Mateo could join Torres be the new Didi/Starlin combo in the future.
On the pitching side, James Kaprielian and Justus Sheffield are the two best pitchers in the system. While Kaprielian was injured most of 2016, he was dynamic in the Arizona Fall League when I was there. Sheffield, while short in stature, has a live arm and if it all comes together, could be a solid mid rotation starter.
The Yankees are going about it right and it should all start to come together in 2018.
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 5 SS
The Chicago Cubs decided to use some of their prospect assets to improve their bullpen for the stretch run. The Yankees swooped in and traded Aroldis Chapman for four players, including the Cubs top prospect Gleyber Torres.
Torres more than held his own in the Carolina League after a rough April start. On May 1st, he was batting .179 through 21 games while striking out a third of the time. Reports that I received indicated that he fell in love with his power and was swinging for the fences. Once the Cubs corrected that and had him shorten up his stroke, he made more contact and paradoxically, started to hit with more power. With his bat speed and natural bat-to-ball skills, the power should natural flow. Once traded to the Yankees, he continued to perform well in the Florida State League, posting a .726 OPS.
Scouting Report: Torres has a very mature approach at the plate and after his April stumble, he managed to post a 20% strikeout rate and 10.6% walk rate for the year. He also has plenty of bat speed to complement his strong hands and while I had him initially projecting average to slightly below average power, I think there’s solid-average power with a chance for a tick more (15 to 18 home runs).
While there was debate entering the season that Torres could be moved off shortstop, I believe that he is there for the long haul. He also continues to steal a high number of bases but is far from a burner and as he fills out, the speed will drop a grade but the power should also gain a grade. It’s a dynamic profile with an all-star upside. With a likely assignment to Double-A to begin the 2017 season, it might not be long before we see how his game translates on the big stage.
Fantasy Impact: Torres approach and plus hit-tool will be his greatest asset from a fantasy perspective. With a potential of 15 to 20 home runs and 8 to 10 stolen bases, the upside is a Top five fantasy shortstop.
Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 OF
Clint Frazier was the fifth overall player taken in the 2013 MLB Draft and while it’s not been a linear rise through the prospect ranks, he showed excellent growth in 2016 and now is one of the best prospects in the game. He was so valued by the Indians that it took a special situation for him to be traded and that occurred on July 31st when they Yankees shipped one of the best bullpen arms in all of baseball, Andrew Miller to the Indians for Frazier, Justus Sheffield, and Ben Heller.
Frazier had a very good year in Double-A. In 89 games, he slashed .276/.356/.469 with 13 home runs and 13 stolen bases. Things got a little more difficult upon his promotion to Triple-A, but it’s hard to make any conclusions after 30 games, 25 of which were with a different organization.
Scouting Report: I had a chance to see Frazier several time this year and was impressed each time. He’s strong, athletic and has some of the best bat speed you will ever see. For comparison, it’s every bit as good as Chicago super-utility player, Javier Baez. With Frazier’s bat speed and physicality, he has future plus in-game power. I think 20 to 25 home runs will be a chip shot for him with 30 well in his sights to produce year over year.
What has improved the most this season is his approach. While he’s still striking out too much, he’s looking to drive pitches instead of just trying to hit something 500 feet. Consequently, his walk rate is improving which should in turn help his contact rate. He’ll never be a high average guy, but a .260/.330 player is well within reach. When you combine that with 25 plus home runs and 15 plus stolen bases, the ceiling is very high.
Fantasy Impact: Frazier’s ceiling is a top 50 player in the game. If he can cut down on his strikeouts and improve his batting average, he could be a perennial first round draft pick. I don’t see that happening and believe he will fall into a level just after that.
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 SS
With the revamping of the Yankees minor league system, Jorge Mateo seems to have been lost in the shuffle. It’s a shame, because he’s really good with a chance to be an impact player at the highest level.
He had another terrific year in 2016, hitting .256 in High-A with eight home runs and 36 stolen bases. His eight home runs are his highest to-date and it came in a league that suppresses power. He still needs to work on controlling the strike zone better as he struck out 21.5% of the time and only walked 33 times in 116 games.
Scouting Report: I rarely throw comps on players but I’ve heard more than one scout threw a Jose Reyes comp on Mateo. Sometimes I shake my head when I hear impressive comparisons like that because it’s really unfair to the player. However, in seeing Mateo play live, I get it. He’s athletic with game-changing speed and with more power than he’s shown to-date. Plus, he has the intangible…he’s just exciting to watch. He makes things happen when he gets on base. That was Jose Reyes in his prime.
Mateo’s carrying tool is 80-grade speed. He also has plus bat speed and I’m therefore not surprised to see his in-game power start to show. His approach is still lacking and he needs to become more selective at the plate to ensure his secondary tools can play to the fullest.
Defensively, Mateo has the chops to stay at short and actually excel. I saw a plus arm as well as the quickness and the footwork to put a plus future defensive grade on him. He’s far from Anderlton Simmons, but not from Jose Reyes. However, with Torres now in the fold, Mateo might be moved to second.
Fantasy Impact: With speed and power going in opposite direction in fantasy, rostering a middle infielder that can steal 40 plus bases is an excellent strategy. I also like that Mateo should be able to hit low double-digit home runs. Assuming he can hit enough, he has a chance to be a dynamic top-of-the-order player in a Yankees lineup that is going to be very good in the future.
Highest Level: Major, ETA: 2016, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 OF
Aaron Judge made history by homering in back-to-back games to start his major league career. Living in the New York media market, I can attest to him being all the rage…for about 72 hours…after that, not so much. The final stat line showed four home runs in 27 games and a 50% contact rate before an oblique strain ended his season in mid-September.
From the time he was drafted, there’s been no question about Judge’s plus raw power and that really showed in his 19 bombs in 93 games in Triple-A. What has always been the concern though, is the strikeout rate. In those 93 games in Triple-A, he posted a 24% strikeout rate which was in-line with his career strikeout rate. Maybe the question should be is a 24% strikeout rate really that terrible in today’s game?
Well, I think it’s safe to say it’s not great but Nelson Cruz’s strikeout rate was 24% and Kris Bryant’s was 22%. However, both of those guys hit 40 home runs (Bryant was at 39). Judge probably doesn’t have 40 home run power, but he could hit 30 and therefore, I just don’t think his strikeouts will matter too much.
Scouting Report: I’ve had the chance to scout Aaron Judge multiple times in the last two years and I’m left with two very distinctive impressions. One, he’s a very big dude. He’s listed at 6-foot-7 and 275 pounds, but it’s more tight-end size than offensive lineman. In other words, he’s extremely muscular and athletic. He’s got more speed than you would think and is definitely a guy you want on your side in case trouble arises.
The second thing is the swing. Most batters will release their top hand when they swing, but Judge does not. He holds both hands on the bat, giving the impression that he is swatting at the ball. It’s visually strange, but he likely does it to try and shorten his swing.
While there will likely always be swing and miss in his game, Judge does have an excellent understanding of the strike zone, which should help to neutralize his strikeouts.
Fantasy Impact: I think the rebuilding Yankees will give a long rope to Judge to begin the 2017 season. If he strikes out in half his at-bats and post a .176 batting average at the end of April, a demotion could be in-line. I think there’s a non-zero chance of this happening and therefore, I think he’s a dicey pick beyond the reserve round next year. Long-term, he’s a perennial 30 home run bat with a .250 batting average and a handful of stolen bases.
Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 OF
I was really high on Blake Rutherford entering the 2016 MLB Draft. In fact, I had him higher on my board than eventual number one overall pick, Mikey Moniak. He fell down to pick 18 and the Yankees swooped in and selected the outfielder penning him to a $3.3 million dollar signing bonus. Part of the reason for his drop on draft night was his age. He turned 19 in May and some teams wanted to either go with a younger high school player or a slightly older, but more experienced college player.
While I get the age-logic, Rutherford is a tooled-up player that I believe will hit. He had no trouble in his first exposure to professional ball, hitting .382 in 25 games in the Appy League with a .616 SLUG and a couple of home runs. He struck out too much, 24 times in 100 plate appearance but also walked nine times.
Scouting Report: At 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, Rutherford has an athletic build with all-around solid skills. He has good bat speed that should allow him to hit for above-average power, good foot speed to project double-digit stolen bases and a solid approach that should provide him enough of a hit-tool to allow his secondary skills to play. Isn’t that what you are looking for in a player at the draft table? I think so and it’s why I think the Yankees got a steal.
He’ll likely start the season in Charleston with a chance to see Tampa by the second half. I don’t think the Yankees will rush him through the development process just because he’ll turn 20 in May but I think his bat will force the issue.
Fantasy Impact: The sum of the tools of Rutherford is what will give him value in fantasy. I think the ceiling is a 20 home run bat (particularly hitting in Yankees Stadium), 10 to 15 stolen bases with a .280 batting average. That’s not a star but a very good and impactful fantasy player.
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP but with short-term injury risk
James Kaprielian missed most of the 2016 season with a sore elbow raising concern that he would be heading for Tommy John Surgery. The 22-year-old decided instead to rest and rehab and based on his first start in the Arizona Fall League, he made the right decision. He was dominate and looked like the same guy who came out firing in his first three starts before his elbow started barking.
In those three starts in High-A, he struck out 22, walked three, gave up eight hit and three earned runs in 18 innings. I’m guessing he would have quickly been promoted to Double-A if it weren’t for the injury. Assuming good health and a continued good AFL, he could start next season at Trenton and be a candidate for the Yankees rotation later in the year or 2018 at the latest.
Scouting Report: I was at the Kaprielian’s first AFL start and my gun was popping at Scottsdale Stadium. He sat 94 to 95 MPH bumping 96 a couple of time in three innings of work. He gave up one hit, struck out six and didn’t walk anyone. His secondary pitches were sharp with a 84 to 88 MPH slider that got plenty of swings and misses and a slower curve ball that kept batters off balance. He showed a feel for a change-up but only threw two on the night.
The delivery was clean and simple with a traditional three-quarters release point. He had no trouble repeating his delivery, showing some fastball command. He did start to tire at the end of his outing, giving up a long out on his final pitch that was up in the zone.
Fantasy Impact: I hope that rest and rehab was the elixir for Kaprielian but history says we should be skeptical. In the fantasy game you have to play the odds and the odds say more elbow trouble lie ahead and you should be a seller. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I saw in Arizona but I’m just being realistic. Assuming health though, the ceiling is a number two fantasy starter with high strikeouts and above-average ratios.
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Corner Infielder
I go to a lot of Trenton Thunder games and try to catch as many batting practices that I can. It’s primarily to catch the visiting team, so if I’m running late, it’s ok because I see the Yankees team all the time. On an early summer day, I made my way down the Turnpike in time to see the Yankees take batting practice. As I settled into my seat, six rows from the field on the third base side, I saw this kid hitting bombs to left field. Who was it? Did somebody new get called up? I quickly realized it was Miguel Andujar, a kid I had heard a lot about but had never seen. I saw a ton of him the rest of the summer and have joined the Andujar fan club.
Andujar had a nice season, hitting .273 across High and Double-A with 12 home runs. Ten of those home runs came in the Florida State League, one of the better pitchers leagues in minor league baseball. He only hit two in Double-A, which was a little surprising, especially based on what I saw several times in batting practice. The kid has serious juice in his bat.
Scouting Report: Andujar is an intriguing prospect. He has plus raw power that has yet to emerge in-game but when it does, I think he could hit 20 to 25 easily with a ceiling of 30. He has a good approach, striking out 13% of the time and walking 7% of the time. It’s a fine hit tool, enough of a hit tool that he should eventually get to his plus power. He’s also an average runner and should be able to steal low double-digit stolen bases annually.
If you add it up, it’s a pretty dynamic offensive package with a ceiling of 30 home runs, 10 stolen bases and a .270 batting average. Again, 30 home runs is an upper limit, so if you are looking for a more realistic baseline, how about 25/10/.270.
Fantasy Impact: Andujar should be owned in most Dynasty League formats. If it all comes together, he has a chance to be a Top 100 player in fantasy if not more. Also, he’s already in Double-A and could see time in the majors as soon as 2018.
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
Traded to the Yankees in the Carlos Beltran deal with the Rangers, Dillon Tate was as nice of a haul as Zack Wheeler was five years prior when the Mets traded him to the Giants for their 2011 unsuccessful run in the playoffs. It’s indeed impressive how the 39-year-old outfielder has been able to maintain his production deep into his career and command two potential big-time-arms in exchange for his services.
Tate was well thought of in the 2015 MLB Draft, going fourth overall. So far, the production has not been great. He was hit hard in his 16 starts in Hickory before the trade, giving up 78 hits in 65 innings with a 5.12 ERA. He performed similarly after the trade although his ERA was two runs better.
Scouting Report: I had a chance to scout Dillon Tate on Opening Day at the Arizona Fall League as he came in for relief of Mets farmhand Corey Oswalt. He has a live, quick arm with solid mechanics that allows him to generate plus velocity. His fastball sat 93 to 96 MPH bumping 97. He showed a solid slider that got several swings and misses and a feel for a change-up. He did make a mistake to Carson Kelly who launched a long home run to center field to put a negative mark on an otherwise nice outing.
With good stuff and solid pitching mechanics, Tate has a chance to be a solid mid-rotation starter. He does pitch up in the zone and that could hurt him in Yankees Stadium. The Yankees might try to introduce a two-seamer as an alternative to his four-seamer to try and keep the ball in the ballpark.
Fantasy Impact: Given his draft pedigree, Tate is owned in many Dynasty Leagues. While his stats haven’t caught up to his scouting report, it’s more about command than anything else. That should come in time and fantasy owners need to stay patient. The ceiling is a Top 50 starter with seven strikeouts per nine and higher than average ratios.
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
The Indians acquisition of Andrew Miller was expensive. It cost them one of the best young hitters in the game in Clint Frazier as well as a high upside young left-handed pitcher in Justus Sheffield. Drafted 31st overall in the 2014 MLB Draft, Sheffield is starting to translate his raw ability into in-game performances. Prior to the trade, he started 19 games in the Carolina League, posting a 3.59 ERA while striking out nearly a batter an inning but also walking 3.8 per nine. He had similar results after the trade including an impressive four inning, nine strikeout outing for Double-A Trenton
Scouting Notes: At just under 6-feet, Sheffield doesn’t have the classic size you look for in a pitcher. The stuff is very good though with a fastball that sits 90 to 92 MPH and can touch higher with three excellent secondary pitches. The delivery is clean and simple with the ability to stay on top of his pitches. This should help compensate for his small stature. While he does pitch in the lower half of the strike zone, given his small stature, he could be prone to home runs, although he posted a very reasonable 0.43 HR/9.
We are still placing a mid-rotation ceiling on Sheffield, but he’s very athletic with a quality arsenal, so there is upside in the projection.
Fantasy Impact: Sheffield is an intriguing prospect. The arsenal is very good and he throws strikes. His small stature is a concern but it could be neutralized by the athleticism he brings. He should break into our Top 100 list this season.
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 75 OF
Traded as part of the Aroldis Chapman deal from the Cubs, Billy McKinney barely makes the Yankees list after being regarded as one of the premier prospects in the game for the past several years. Part of the reason is just the overall strength of the Yankees system but he also took a step back this year. The strength of his game is his ability to hit but his strikeout rate increased rather dramatically upon his promotion to Double-A. He did continue to work his walks and that helped him to produce his consistently high on-base percentage.
Scouting Report: McKinney’s carrying tool is the ability to make solid contact that he combines with an advanced approach. That’s what was so concerning about his 2016 season. While his strikeout-to-walk ratio stayed consistent from previous seasons, the strikeout rate increased dramatically. If he was selling out for more power, that would have been understandable, but he didn’t. In fact he still only has 40-grade in-game power and based on his swing mechanics, I don’t see that changing.
Defensively, McKinney does not have the speed to play center-field and is best suited as a corner outfielder. However, as with Jesse Winker, it’s just a tough profile for a first division player. Teams want their corner bats to deliver power and will trade off batting average and defense.
Fantasy Impact: McKinney’s lack of secondary skills is hurting his potential fantasy value. If I could predict 20 home run power, I think the equation changes significantly but based on his swing mechanics, I just can’t. Yankees Stadium will help, but you can’t count of that in fantasy as he might get traded. I see a complementary fantasy player but not a star.
2017 Emerging Prospect
Estevan Florial is a tooled-up player that is just starting to translate his tools into performance. He has elite bat speed and enough physicality to eventually hit for plus in-game power. He’s also a plus runner but as he continues to fill-out, his speed will likely reduce a grade. He does have a good approach but his swing suggest that there will always be swing and miss in his game. The Yankees will likely start Florial in Charleston to begin the 2017 season but I would not be surprised to see him finish the year in Tampa.